Mirai

Mirai (2018)

This film was kinda hard work.

It’s a family drama with a few fantastical elements but I felt mostly like I was locked inside the tantrum of one small boy for most* of the movie.

Having said that, there are a few wonderful forays into other places and times that expand the setting and add whimsy and also pack emotional weight as well… but for too much of the running time I found myself sitting through scenes of Kun’s jealous whining. (And yeah, he is just a little kid struggling with change, as is the whole family, but I didn’t enjoy it much).

Elsewhere the gender stereotypes are perhaps a little dull and I didn’t finish the movie feeling particularly uplifted, which is something I’ve come to expect from Mamoru Hosoda films. (Having said that, quite obviously not every single film he or any other creator makes has to be uplifting at all.)

Mirai is still visually beautiful and I really enjoyed the variety in the sort of single setting of the home, but the highlights for me were the scenes where Kun meets and learns about his grandfather – I’d watch a whole anime about that in a flash.

Not my favourite Mamoru Hosoda film by any stretch but it certainly might be your thing.

2 Stars

(Cool to hear Tatsuro Yamashita in the opening though).

* Of course, I am exaggerating when I say ‘most’ but it was too much for me.

The Third: Girl with the Blue Eye (Za Sādo – Aoi Hitomi no)

The Third: Girl with the Blue Eye (Za Sādo – Aoi Hitomi no) 2007

The Third: Girl with the Blue Eye met most of my expectations and I did enjoy it a lot, but there was a little something missing for me when it came to the ending.

However, I’ll stick with what I liked most first.

As I’ve said before, I love adventure stories, and usually ones based on light novels (or just novels in general) tend to have great plots and charactarisation. And that’s mostly how I feel about this anime; it was great to see heroine Honoka roaming the post-apocalyptic world, saving folks with her blade and mech suit, aided by her AI tank and the mysterious Iks.

There is a central plot that reveals itself in time, and while I said ‘post-apoc’ I should mention that this is a reasonably hopeful future-earth, compared to other shows at least. The setting was one draw for me, and the friendly bickering between Honoka and her tank (Bogie, voiced by Unshou Ishizuka, ‘Jet Black’), was great too, along with the fight scenes and interpersonal aspects between leads.

One thing that really stands out was the fact that The Third has a narrator – usually providing exposition or character monologue, which was interesting. It worked for me – but I could definitely see that as an issue for some viewers.

I also wondered about Paifu and her ‘rivalry’ with Iks re: Honoka, as that came across as pretty odd onscreen, even downright creepy… is Paifu meant to actually be a villain? She tends to act like one throughout.

But my main issue is with the ending. (A few times, the animation also dips and the character models seem fairly ‘off’ but I did get over that.)

Instead, as the series begins to wrap, there’s a significant plot line that seems like it represents the ‘ending’. It gets a few episodes to resolve things, and I finished it feeling the sense that ‘it’s all been sorted/crisis averted’ – but it wasn’t really the end.

There was more of The Third… left, and suddenly, tension had to be rebuilt in the two remaining episodes, and so the actual closing episodes of the anime didn’t feel quite as ‘big’ to me.

Having said that, it wasn’t a bad ending either… but it just didn’t land the same way as the preceding episodes, I guess. I was still interested to learn some final secrets, and I was always going to watch the final two, but yeah. Hard for me to rate, I probably personally enjoyed it a bit more than my score will suggest.

3 Stars

During the early-middle period of the series, there’s an episode or two with these stark, dramatic shadows that I really liked:

A-Z Challenge: “O” is for Oblivion Island, Haruka and the Magic Mirror

Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror (Hottarake no Shima: Haruka to Mahō no Kagami) 2009

The success of Toy Story and Skrek are two CGI examples that I think of most when it comes to changing animation in America. Of course, it’s silly to point out only two examples, only two moments or studios (Pixar and DreamWorks here) as being responsible… but I think they are definitely noteworthy 🙂

Across the world in Japan, I kinda see Production IG as one similar driver of CGI integration into anime. Again, they’re obviously not the only studio doing so, but if I think of Ghost in the Shell in the mid-1990s and Innocence (among others) a little later on, I feel like there’s a clear line to 2009 when they released Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror.

Later in the review I do want to return to this rambling train of thought, but I should talk about the film itself sooner or later, huh?

Oblivion Island has a great fairy-tale feel, with perhaps a bit of Alice in Wonderland but a lot more Japanese folklore too, with a specific focus on kitsune. The hook for me was the idea that main character Haruka is drawn into a world of ‘forgotten things’, things which humans have left behind and have then been collected by fox-like creatures over the decades (and doubtless longer).

In fact, the scavengers have a motto: What You Neglect, We Collect, which is a pretty perfect description. When Haruka lands in the new world she is lucky enough to have a (reluctant at first) guide to show her around. And the Island is a pretty amazing place, where pretty much everything has been repurposed, from open books that function as seats on rail cars to gramophones deconstructed into chairs (okay, they’re both chairs :D).  

There’s even a hierarchy/currency to the items, with mirrors being prized above all else – exactly the object Haruka needs to recover; her own precious hand mirror.

The story unfolds at a steady pace as the search gets Haruka and Teo (her guide) mixed up with ruler of the island, Baron. Maybe as an adult you won’t find heaps of surprises but I think kids would be delighted in all the right places, and Teo’s a cute little guy too. It’s also cool to see that Haruka is no push-over either.

If I had to single out an issue… it was just the feeling that I didn’t love the movie – I ‘only’ liked it a lot. That’s not much of a criticism, is it? Maybe the climax was actually a little long but it was usually pretty exciting.

Okay, so finally I’m going to creep back toward the visuals – which is what I was slowly, slowly leading up to at the start.

I remember a certain amount of excitement and bold predictions from the media and creators during those changes to the animation world that I mentioned before, discussing the way new technology would revolutionise things (I remember a bit of that around the time of Appleseed for one).

You can still see that excitement in occasional special features included with physical releases, sometimes it’s even the same folks looking back and reflecting on how the predictions turned out a little differently (but not ‘wrong’ either).

So, why have I also wrangled this review around to special features?

Well, I like to use them as one potential marker of the level of success a studio hoped for with a new release and I was curious about Haruka and the Magic Mirror.

Obviously, most ‘extras’ double as marketing materials but when I saw the decent list of special features included with Oblivion Island, I had the impression that Shinsuke Sato and Producton IG wanted the film to be a big hit. And of course! Why shouldn’t they? Success also keeps the studio going and making more great stuff.

So, I guess finally now to a question – did other folks like the film and its blend of traditional animation and CGI?

Oblivion Island was nominated for and won awards but I suppose if I’m interested in more than one marker of success, then I can’t ignore box office either – so, using IMDB, Haruka and the Magic Mirror had a worldwide gross of $3,171,022.

Now, to give some context I’ll try a couple of other similar-ish films released in the same year. First up, Summer Wars, which listed a fair bit more in terms of ticket sales: $18,434,328. Hosada’s film also used CGI but not in the same way as Oblivion Island and he also had a lot of anticipation already built up at that point. Something more CGI-heavy then? I’ll try Astro Boy – it took in $39,886,986 but it’s not precisely an anime film. (It was also considered a flop).

Maybe neither of my examples are totally useful as 1-to-1 comparisons, but I think I can say that audiences were still slow to warm to CGI in anime then. I know some of that reluctance lingers today, and does so within me, but again, I think I mostly complain when it seems like the blend between techniques is not great.

And I reckon Oblivion Island: Haruka and the Magic Mirror brings the two approaches together nicely indeed. Even if the character models have that CGI-smooth look, there’s still a lot of texture and depth to them and the backgrounds and props, and not just courtesy of the lighting either I reckon.

So, finally, I’ve finished all of my tangents – and as it turns out, it took me a really long time to say that I enjoyed this fairy-tale CGI anime and think it’d probably be pretty suitable for kids, just not the really, really young.

4 Stars

[This is another entry in a challenge (that I hope to one day finish), where I have set myself the goal of watching something for each letter of the alphabet – you can see the list over here if curious].

Land of the Lustrous (Hōseki no Kuni)

Land of the Lustrous (Hōseki no Kuni) 2017

Land of the Lustrous seems to be cited fairly often as a show that can change minds when it comes to anime and CGI.

I guess I’m fairly hard on CGI that I feel isn’t integrated all that well with trad techniques in the anime world, but I wouldn’t consider myself as the sort that would instantly dismiss a text due to its use of CGI either.

All of which is to say that I didn’t need convincing 🙂

The blend is great and so visually Land of the Lustrous is beautiful – the colours are vibrant and the ‘shatter’ effect is heaps of fun. Having comparatively less detailed backgrounds and settings really added to the contrast too, from the grass, to the sea and the snow. I felt bad kinda looking forward to how (visually at least) each stroke of misfortune might end up looking for the characters.

Others have said more interesting things about the visuals than I have and I doubt I’ll add anything ground-breaking about the story or characters either, but while the anime features lots of action-sequences, Land of the Lustrous is definitely character-driven.

Everything revolves around Phos and her struggle to find purpose. Many of the disasters that strike her community (generally a cyclical war between three cultures) come from her failures, choices and desire to do what’s right.

Creator Haruko Ichikawa has also given Phos plenty of great lines when it comes to injecting the comedic element, which definitely kept me smiling.

There’s also clear development for our lead character too – actually, let me pause for a sec. I’ve said ‘her’ before but in fact, Ichikawa describes the gems as being genderless and suggested as much to the translator for the English release, so it’s they for Phos and co, and maybe sometimes in the original some masculine pronouns are used too – but my Japanese is non-existent, really, so I can’t be sure.

If you like a mystery woven in around an interesting and (for now?) narrow setting, then Land of the Lustrous should also satisfy on that level. I don’t want to go into too much detail now, due to my usual fear of spoilers, but I’m keen for a second season so I can learn more!

And not just about the main storyline and the history of the gems, or the master’s connection with the invading Lunarians, but also folks like Padparadscha who I hope has a main role in the future.

Not sure whether Orange have more Land of the Lustrous on their plate for the near future, but I’m definitely keeping an eye out.

5 Stars

Cool hair – so much of anime is about hair, I think.
I guess (visually at least) ‘LotL’ has some fanservice re: costume and framing, but it’s not really the focus overall.

The Sword in the Stone (1963)

The Sword in the Stone (1963)

To begin, I thought I should note that this is the Disney film where the team emotionally torments that poor chipmunk character, and also mention that The Sword in the Stone isn’t an exploration of the Arthurian legend.

That timeless Chip ‘n’ Dale chipmunk design

Instead, I think you can consider it more of a series of fun, loosely connected sequences put together to delight young children with colour and slapstick. Which is not a bad thing at all, and it was a film I watched over and over as a kid on my grandmother’s TV, so I have fond memories indeed!

And it’s always great to see Disney’s love of forests on display too, something I notice and compare each time I watch a Disney film. Most of Arthur’s transformations make for exciting scenes but as an adult, I could feel certain moments starting to drag a little, and others felt a little rushed compared to what I sought from a King Arthur/Merlin tale.

Feels like you could draw a neat link from this scene to ‘Finding Nemo’

One scene that sticks around a little long for me is obviously the squirrel one, whereas anything in the city tends to be a more rushed. Having Wart’s character voiced by three actors (including two brothers which was cool) made the variance between them quite stark, even too stark at times.

Overall, I don’t want to call The Sword in the Stone a bad film but there are enough better Disney ones to maybe seek out first. I still enjoyed the moat chase and the dueling magicians (when Merlin confronts Madam Mim) but I wasn’t enchanted this time around.

3 Stars 

Classic Dinsey to bring in the present to any historical story.

Heaven Official’s Blessing (More Impressions)

I wish I had more to say today, but basically – I’m still enjoying Tian Guan Ci Fu plenty and also finding it hard to wait between episodes.

The adventure feel is still really strong and what probably amounts to Xie Lian and San Lang’s first date is really cute, even if the scenes aren’t quite played that way onscreen.

One of the only seasonal shows I’m keeping up with this time around! (8 episodes in so far.)

Heaven Official’s Blessing (Early Impressions)

I started a fair few shows from the current season but haven’t really drifted back to many of them yet – with one exception, Tian Guan Ci Fu.

Only the first 4 episodes are available but I’m enjoying it a lot – it has plenty of things I love: action, fantasy, historical aspects and fantastic costumes, lovely art and engaging characters, so I’ll definitely continue on.

This early, the romance hasn’t really kicked off – in fact, the show is a little darker, more supernatural perhaps than I was expecting, but that’s not a problem at all. Xie Lian is a great lead too and I’m keen to see how he’ll hold his own against the Demon King.

I’m also enjoying this introduction to the Xianxia genre (which is closely related to Wuxia, I believe), with the heroes not just being warriors but also gods – which creates some interesting problems for the story; how to make them not too overpowered too early etc

Looking forward to more!

It’s also my first introduction (I think) to Chinese animation group Haoliners Animation League, and this is beautiful work so I’ll definitely seek more of their productions in time.

I will say, that I have one minor issue so far, which is with the typsetting for the subtitles, they’re a touch small. Obviously, that’s because both the Japanese and English are placed onscreen, one above the other. Maybe that’s just my poor distance vision, but the alternative is to have no translation at all, and I would not like that!

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Sleeping Beauty (1959)

Upon re-watching Sleeping Beauty recently I was fascinated to realise that the three fairies are pretty much the main characters 🙂

Obviously they’re not the only characters, but they probably have the most screentime for one and they also take many of the important risks. Flora, Fauna and Merryweather also devise all the plans, in addition to providing the only good comic relief while at the same time being responsible for saving everyone around them!

Of course Auroa and Phillpip have nice singing voices but I think for a lot of people Maleficent stands out most in terms of character – she’s a pretty superb villain, capable of true cruelty, and her colour scheme of green, purple and black is unnerving too.

Visually, I was enthralled.

It wasn’t just the tremendous dragon/forest of thorns scene, but elsewhere too, the art and backgrounds for Sleeping Beauty are amazing – the detail on the bark upon the trees alone is just so great!

The whole forest, really – especially with those distinctive shapes and textures, but many of the castle scenes stood out too. I really liked the illusion of depth there, via that amazing multi-plane camera set up Disney was known for.

However, I was interested to hear something quite dull from director Geronimi – who I believe was unhappy with the art direction and backgrounds by Eyvind Earle, feeling that no-one would even look backgrounds. What a fool, huh? 😀

Sure, I doubt kids of the day would have cared that much but I would like to think that surely, one part of why Sleeping Beauty has endured over other Disney films has to be the art, because I don’t think the film stands above several other Disney titles around due to its storytelling, which I thought was pretty uneven.

On that claim, there’s a bit too much time spent on what I’d call filler, I guess – my favourite example being the two kings in that endless scene where they discuss and agree to things which have already been agreed to.

Even so, I’m really glad I watched this again because if I hadn’t, I would have missed out on some amazing stuff, especially the work of Eyvind Earle.

4 Stars (one of which is probably for the art alone)

By the power of Grayskull!

Weathering with You (Tenki no Ko)

Weathering with You (Tenki no Ko) 2019

I watched Children of the Sea a little while ago, and afterwards I stuck with the aquatic-theme for a couple more films. One of those movies was Ride Your Wave* while the other was obviously Weathering With You, which I’ll write about now 😀

I’m also going to kick off the post with something different compared to my usual review structure, and share this from director Makoto Shinkai:

“I thought, ‘Should I make my next film so that I don’t anger more people, or should I make a movie that angers them further?’ And I chose the latter.”

Here, he’s talking about Weathering with You as per a quote that appears in this Variety article, and I was really interested in the context around that statement… but I’ll actually come back to it later. I guess I’m raising it now to frame the idea that Weathering with You is maybe more reactionary than a lot of his previous work – and that’s probably not a surprise, considering the enormous success of Your Name.

If you haven’t come across Weathering with You yet, it’s a teen drama/romance-fantasy told in a wonderfully ‘saturated’ way, and I didn’t really mean for that to be a pun.  

I guess what I mean is that Shinkai’s fascination with and also his devotion to water, light and colour certainly continues: everything looks so beautiful, whether it’s CGI or traditional animation. In fact, you could argue that it’s crushingly beautiful, and the detail – the atmosphere, the way you really sink into the setting, it’s all quite dream-like in a way.

[Spoilers from here on] For me, the visual elements are enough to compensate for what seemed like a slightly less cohesive story overall. Something about it didn’t quite pull together as neatly as say, Your Name (or his older films) and I wonder if I needed just a few more scraps of info re: what main character Hodaka was running from, for one. Feeling suffocated by a place – I buy that 100%, but maybe just a little more on specifics at home?

I also craved some extra follow-up on a few threads by the end and I’m not sure Hina turning her back on all technology for three years feels right? Related, would Hodaka not have attempted to contact her in some way (and vice-a-versa)?

Apologies, but I’m going to jump around again as I want to mention some other things that I enjoyed, before eventually circling back to Shinkai’s quote.

Firstly, I thought it was fun to see Mitsuha and Taki from Your Name – they don’t show up in flashy, attention-grabbing cameos, it’s far more low-key and maybe somewhat connected to the Variety quote above. 

Suga and Natsumi were actually my fav characters in Weathering with You, especially Natsumi and her motorcycle, but in contrast, one of the more serious moments I enjoyed was when poor Hodaka is making his earnest promises in the hotel. Moments like that in the film, when you’re young and your conviction is stronger than your ability to make things happen, I thought were nicely done.

For some reason I’ve ended up reviewing Weathering with You before Your Name. And while the order of reviews hardly matters, I think it’s hard not to compare Weathering with You to his older work – either as a progression or a reaction.

I’ll try to expand on that – when I think about colour and tone here, it seems there’s a growing warmth clear to Weathering with You and Your Name, especially visible in the extra moments of levity and hope that I see onscreen, but which don’t appear as often in prior works perhaps.

For instance, The Garden of Words and The Place Promised in Our Early Days are obviously still beautifully coloured, but they feel more melancholy overall. (And certainly Children Who Chase Lost Voices strikes me so).

…or maybe I’m remembering the colours wrong?

In any event, I’m finally getting closer to that quote (I promise) with a note about the ending first. Here’s a quick summation of the film’s conclusion:

After Hina chooses to sacrifice herself in order to save Tokyo from drowning, Hodaka fights his way above the clouds to see her, eventually bringing her home. With her return comes rain that, over the next three years, displaces millions (maybe kills folks too?), and changes the entire city. Hina seems to have been praying, trying to stop it – maybe the whole time – whereas Hodaka reflects that change is inevitable. After this, the two get a personally uplifting reunion.

Now, what I haven’t been able to decide is whether the ending is nudging us toward letting him off the hook re: taking responsibility for changes to the city and all the displaced people? Because there is a bit of time spent on that reflection, time that I took as Hodaka justifying his choice to himself (and maybe us too) via words that others had offered.

Obviously, it’s not so simple – because Hina deserves life too; and it’s a rotten choice he’s faced with.

Doubtless we’re meant to tackle the theme and decide for ourselves, what should Hodaka have done? (Even Suga goes back on his bitter wish).

And perhaps, if real life is about meeting challenges (and not being able to ‘magic’ them all away) then does the ending constitute a bit of authorial messaging? I think it’s clear that Shinkai wanted to bring attention to rising sea levels, and so what seems like a sad ending is probably the only way Weathering with You could have concluded.

So, thinking of Shinkai’s quote and his desire to anger people again – I wonder if this overt message at the end is two things: a sincere concern about climate change, but also a reaction to some criticism aimed at Your Name, where folks** didn’t like the idea of a natural disaster used for entertainment?

Because here is an even bigger natural disaster that is also used in the plot of a teen romance, and maybe within that choice, there’s some hope that in such a popular film, a lot of people will pay attention to the problem being raised… almost like a gauntlet being thrown down?

Ultimately, I hate to drift too far toward autobiographical criticism, nor assign motive to someone else’s work, but in this case I feel like there’s room – especially with that quote and having a little bit of context around Your Name.

4 Stars

* Sharing another collaboration soon! 🙂

** Wish I could find specifics on the response.

I feel like I’ve seen awesome close-ups of writing in more than a few Shinkai films now 🙂

150th Review: The Vision of Escaflowne (Tenkū no Esukafurōne)

The Vision of Escaflowne (Tenkū no Esukafurōne) 1996

I want to quickly preface my [spoilery] review today with a link to a post from ThatRandomEditor, Where are the Shoujo Anime? which I think is a great question, because for me, I don’t think I’ve really seen an action-kinda shoujo for one, in a fair while (or maybe I missed them?)

The Vision of Escaflowne is a classic and one of my favs, which ultimately suggests to me that I should probably spend a lot more time on the review, but I think I generally ramble on long enough as it is.

Firstly, I think portal fantasy is probably still holding onto a recent ‘boom’ right now, but if you’ve already seen all the new isekai out there and still want more, then look no further! Even more so if you’re also craving shoujo, because The Vision of Escaflowne will meet both of those needs nicely.

The same goes for the bishonen character design, and while I always appreciate the 1990s and characters with visible noses, the slight Pinocchio-feel took a bit of getting used to at first. Elsewhere, there’s a focus on graceful lines, and not just due to our winged heroes or the knight-like mech, and I’d argue that none of it comes at the cost of variety either.

That diversity is also featured in the range of new lands and peoples that Hitomi must navigate, aided often by Van or Allen (who tend to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to Dornkirk and his plans for world domination). But Hitomi is no flailing damsel either, and her visions and her speed as a member of the track team save the day more than once. I enjoyed the Tarot as well, which I hadn’t realised was quite popular with girls in Japan at the time, according to my Blu-Ray’s special features.  

And perhaps the audience is firmly meant to be shoujo, but I read that there were twin manga produced, one with more shounen conventions and the other more like the anime, which does have its share of a complex love triangles. In a way things seem ‘softer’ on the surface, with plenty of glistening eyes etc but The Vision of Escaflowne doesn’t shy away from heartbreak and repressed, unfulfilled desires either.

In addition to those romantic elements there are enough battles and duels to satisfy action fans too, I reckon. It’s an at times grim world with an interesting mix of fantasy and science fiction clear in the settings and characters. Having said that, the Dilandu encounters for one, became a bit repetitive for me. I found myself keen for Van to finish him off more than a few times, but having the invisibility aspect certainly kept suspense high, which I loved.

Okay, so I can’t wrap things up here without exploring some criticism, and while there were a few things that struck me, I’ll mention two below:

Sisters Eriya and Nariya – there’s a scene that I wasn’t sure how to read, especially in the way it was shot. Was it just meant to be run of the mill fan-service? Sapphic? Incestuous? I dunno, maybe I misread the scene but it never seemed to gel with their backstory or present storyline. Was it actually a missed opportunity to explore themes around sex and trauma?

And quickly now, by the end of the series I don’t know whether Folken actually earns his redemption arc for me, even if visually, one particular scene was fantastic.

Again, that could be a judgement call and I’m being a little hard on the guy but I dunno… He certainly helps our heroes out, but that whole mass-murderer thing keeps him firmly in the camp of villain, I reckon, even if he sees the light in time.

Nevertheless, The Vision of Escaflowne is an old favourite with a whole lot of stuff I loved, and one that I really enjoyed re-watching, but I can’t decide between 4 Stars and 5 Stars

… actually, it probably should be 5, especially with that killer Yoko Kanno OST.

(And I’ve also finally finished my second A-Z title now!).  

Poor hopelessly jealous Merle.

And there it is, the 150th review for the Review Heap!

(At least, I’m fairly sure it is – I counted, but may have missed a few, as it’s the 229th post but obviously not every post here is a review :D).

 

(I forgot to add – I usually take a lot of screenshots myself but this time my discs were playing up but I found a superb resource (qtpiecaps) which you can visit right here – it has a great list of shows available too.)